It’s back to school time!
And though it’s been a very long time since I’ve been back to school, I can still vividly recall the anticipation, the excitement, that first bit of chill in the morning air, and the smell of new school supplies!
I love this time of year!
Fall is (hopefully) just around the corner. The light outside just looks different. The sky is bluer.
As I write this I can hear a high school marching band in the distance learning their new show, and soon I’ll be able to hear them playing on Friday nights at the football games.
This will inevitably bring to mind my college days when a Saturday during football season turned the town into one big, friendly tailgate party with smells of hot dogs and hamburgers wafting through the air wherever you went.
Seriously, Fall is just delicious!
But my most favorite part of this time of year (as if it can get better than colorful leaves, sweatshirts, apple picking, and apple pies) is the new beginning that it brings.
A new start. Full of so many possibilities and so much potential!
As piano teachers, we should take full advantage of this fresh start and the natural momentum that it brings.
So whether you have students who will be returning to piano lessons after a summer break or students who are just continuing, now is the perfect time to bring this new energy into your studio and get your students excited about lessons!
I’m sure it goes without saying, but the first piano lesson of the new school year needs to be super fun!
Most students are probably not thrilled that Summer break is over and school is back in session. So let’s make the piano lesson a place they will be thrilled to go every week!
Not only do we want to make this first piano lesson extra fun, we need to make it different!
So maybe you won’t even open up their tried and true lesson book at all. You want to give them a taste of all the fun possibilities that you’ve got up your sleeve for this coming year.
First, why not begin with a little question and answer game to find out a bit about their summer.
See how much you can figure out by asking only questions that can be answered with a “yes” or “no”. Except instead of answering you with a word, they will use a musical answer.
For example, use a major chord for yes and minor chord for no. Or a high note for yes and low note for no. Or have a couple of rhythms written out, one for yes and one for no.
Obviously, you can easily tailor this to fit the level of each student, and you’ll hear about their summer adventures while easing them back into the piano lesson!
Isn’t that the most exciting part?!
I still remember the excitement of walking into the studio as a child and seeing a stack of brand new music on the piano. That meant my teacher had been to the music store during the previous week, and some lucky kid was about to get some new music.
Oh, I could barely wait to find out if one of those new pieces was for me!
So in the Fall, rather than diving straight back into their usual books where we had left off, I like to mix it up a bit.
I like to bring in an assortment of exciting sheet music with tons of variety and choices, and then…best part… the students get to choose! There are so many wonderful options out there for pieces written with students in mind.
Fun pieces, that are pleasing to their ears with fun titles and illustrations that will capture their imaginations and make them excited to learn.
I find it so valuable to consistently research new (or new to me) repertoire, because much of the time, waning interest can be solved by finding just the right piece!
Next, do something silly with an old piece of music, or save this to do with their new piece at the next piano lesson once they’ve practiced it a bit.
For example, have them hop on one foot the rhythm of the entire right hand. Or, have them play the piece with hands crossed over each other, left hand up high and right hand down low.
Or, have them play the piece as if they were a robot.
You get the idea.
You need about 5 to 10, silly to outrageous instructions. Write each one on a tiny piece of paper folded up and thrown into a hat for the students to pick from.
Maybe also let them pick one for you if you’re up for a challenge!
Finally, during this first piano lesson back you’ve got to play some games!
As a way to introduce new theoretical concepts or just to review things learned in the past, what better way is there than playing a game?
And a quick internet search will yield more results than you could ever possibly need for any concept you could ever possibly hope to find. In the past, I rarely made time for games thinking we just had too much to do.
But I’ve seen the excitement and interest in a game carry over into the rest of the piano lesson, and now I’m sold!
It switches things up and keeps the piano lesson fresh and exciting…exactly what we’re hoping to do as we start this new school year!
The start of a new school year is also a time to think about goals.
To get my beginner and intermediate students thinking about longer-term goals, I like to do a studio challenge.
This year I am going to do a 10 piece memory challenge. Students are encouraged to polish and memorize 10 of their pieces during the school year. They choose which ones and perform them for me when they’re ready.
Each student has a laminated punch card they can use to keep track. We also list the pieces in their notebooks, but it’s surprisingly fun to hole punch your card each time you accomplish part of your goal!
I should make a punch card for myself to use for mundane household chores!
The idea behind this challenge is to encourage students to not only polish more but also for them to have a larger repertoire in their fingers that they can play anytime, anywhere.
I also have a chart displayed in the studio showing each student’s progress in the challenge. This is just a little bit of inspiration (competition) for those students who need it!
For another studio challenge idea, you may consider something like the “30 piece challenge” that is floating around the internet in piano teacher land. The goal of this challenge is to learn 30 pieces.
Obviously, you’d need to make some pieces easier than others, but the idea is to develop more fluent readers and enhance all areas of musicianship simply through quantity of pieces learned.
The thought is that when it comes to quality vs. quantity, though we all definitely desire quality, there is something to be said for quantity as well when it comes to time spent at the piano.
10,000 hours (of deliberate and quality practice) makes an expert, right?
Maybe you’ve done this kind of challenge before? I would love to hear about the results you observed!
And finally, one last idea to bring some fun into your piano lessons this year (and probably the idea I am most excited about, maybe even more than my students):
Bring a mascot into your studio!
And by this, I mean a stuffed animal with a name and an interesting backstory that gets to go home with one lucky student a week along with a practice journal.
In the journal (which you can personalize in so many ways) the student will tell how they practiced with their furry friend.
What was furry friend’s favorite piece? Which part was hardest for them? How many times did they practice measures 3-6? How many total minutes did they spend at the piano together? Did they do any other non-piano things together?
Including pictures is encouraged!
Previous entries will be enjoyed by each student who gets a turn with the mascot.
They will get a glimpse of what other students are working on and how they practice. Students may even be impressed to see how many minutes other students are spending at the piano in a week!
Think of the possibilities! Fortissimo Fox, Beethoven Bear, Susie Sloth, Adagio Alligator… so much fun!
So breathe in that crisp Fall air and welcome some newness into your studio!
Your own renewed energy and fresh ideas will be contagious, and your students will be more excited than ever!
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